Successful shoreline cleanup gets participants into their local marine sanctuary, while getting unwanted debris out

Molly Troup from Santa Barbara Channelkeeper shows some of the most common plastic debris she picked up at Chinese Harbor. Photo Credit: Amber McEldowney

On a bright Friday morning in early August, the NOAA R/V Shearwater and volunteers, two local Santa Barbara commercial lobstermen and their crews, and Santa Barbara Channelkeeper, a local NGO, left the harbor to get into their local marine sanctuary, while getting trash out of it. This cleanup coincided with the annual Get Into Your Sanctuary week. 

Large plastic debris collected at Chinese Harbor. Photo credit: Amber McEldowney

The team of twenty-three volunteers were proud to collaborate and work together to clean up marine debris, while still complying with CDC guidelines. The cleanup participants successfully removed 1,760 pounds of marine debris from a 1.5 mile-long stretch of shoreline along Chinese Harbor on Santa Cruz Island. Most of the debris recovered consisted of buoys, rope, and miscellaneous plastics. 

The waters of Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary are some of the state of California’s most productive fishing grounds. Chinese Harbor, a rocky shoreline on the northside of Santa Cruz Island, is unique among the north-facing shores of the islands within the sanctuary, acting like a “catcher’s mitt” that snags floating debris washed in on prevailing currents in the Santa Barbara Channel.

Kayaks used to transport participants and debris from the shoreline to the vessels. Photo credit: Amber McEldowney

The R/V Shearwater and two lobster fishing boats (captained by veteran Santa Barbara lobstermen, Sam Shrout and Chris Voss), and the Santa Barbara Channelkeeper vessel, left Santa Barbara Harbor to make the 30 mile journey across the Santa Barbara Channel to Chinese Harbor.  With kayaks provided by Paddle Sports Center of Santa Barbara, the cleanup crew kayaked from their respective vessels to the shoreline, where they spent the day collecting lost buoys and marine debris deposited by the currents. Participants were thrilled to see super pods of dolphins, harbor seals, and a green sea turtle en route to the cleanup site.

With help from volunteers and local commercial fishermen, a pulley system was deployed to transport bags of debris out to the vessels for proper mainland disposal. Photo credit: Amber McEldowney

As swells built throughout the day, all teams collaborated seamlessly to employ a combination of kayaks and a lobster rope pulley system to safely transport bags of debris back to the vessels waiting offshore. Once they filled up the vessels with as much debris as they were able to safely carry, they returned to Santa Barbara Harbor, where a Marborg Inc. 40-yard roll-off container was waiting. 

While collaborative shoreline cleanups have been carried out at the Channel Islands on an ad hoc basis for the past 20 years, this particular effort is part of an ongoing initiative called Goal: Clean Seas Channel Islands, funded by the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation. Another cleanup is scheduled in the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary for September in association with the International and California Coastal Cleanup Day.

Captain Zac Montgomery transports bags of debris from the NOAA R/V Shearwater to Marborg dumpster at Santa Barbara Harbor. Photo credit: Anastasia Kunz